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Independent Green Voice

SUSTAINABLE COMMUNITIES POLICY

A report released back in December 2003 by the New Economics Foundation www.neweconomics.org entitled Ghost Town Britain II: Death on the High Street -- a follow up to Ghost Town Britain released in 2002 -- emphasises the decline of local economies in the face of wider economic forces, hitting particularly local banks, pubs, pharmacies, shops and post offices, leaving more communities than ever without access to essential local services.

It shows:

1. There has been massive loss of open space, community buildings and meeting spaces. Since 1989, London alone has lost the equivalent of 1,428 football pitches, or seven Hyde Parks. Despite Labour assurances that the Conservative Party policy of selling off school playing fields would be reversed, at the end of 2002 school fields were being sold at a rate of 1 per week. 40 per cent of urban parks are in decline and only 18 per cent are in good condition.

2. In spite of a government commitment to keep post offices open, branch closures increased in the year to March 2003.

3. Wholesalers, the lifeblood of small local shops, have closed at a rate of six per week. New registrations of small-scale food manufacturers have fallen by 12%.

4. 800 communities in Britain have no bank left, and over a thousand have only one. In the decade to 2002, Britain lost one third of its bank network.

5. 20 traditional pubs close per month.

6. In the five years to 2002, 50 specialised stores like butchers, bakers, fishmongers and newsagents closed every week.

7. The average person now travels 893 miles per year to shop for food, 60% of that by car. Food shopping now accounts for 5% of all car mileage.

The report recommends regulatory changes that could support locally led and driven regeneration in the areas of Britain where it's needed most.

Policy Proposals for Sustainable Communities

  • Support the Sustainable Communities Bill: This is presently being debated in Westminster, having passed its second reading. This Bill is intended to create a coherent framework for pro-local policies, and give local authorities and citizens the power to guarantee the future environmental sustainability of their community. www.localworks.org

  • Pro-local competition policy: Designed to curb the development of large out-of-town superstores that destroy local businesses. Local communities to have the final say in any decision on whether to allow the construction of a large shopping centre exceeding a certain size.

  • Campaign to stop Tesco building a "Tescotown" in Partick.You can sign a petition on the Downing Street website to complain about this "wholly inappropriate 9950 sqm 24-hour hypermarket and 1200 flats in Partick" which will leave "its mix of independent retailers, markets and wildlife at risk" by clicking http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/STOP-TESCO

  • Support for local procurement: Money spent on local goods and services is retained in the locality to its benefit. Local authorities' procurement processes should be made more accessible to small business.

  • Mandatory Code of Conduct for supermarkets: A food retail regulator should be instituted to monitor supermarkets' relationship with suppliers and effect on local competition.

  • Local money flows analyses to be used: There is a need for local authorities, planning agencies, regeneration bodies and regional development agencies to use a local money flows analysis to help guide local retail development.

  • Rate relief for small retailers: Rate relief should be extended to independent newsagents and food, beverage and tobacco retailers, particularly those in villages, town centres and urban deprived neighbourhoods. Priority assistance should be given to high-street shops contending with out-of-town and edge-of-town superstores. This could mean establishing local business rates by taking into account things like the wider benefits accrued to the local community. It might also mean connecting rates to the amount of local employment created, or amount of goods sourced locally.

  • Develop local retail plans: The loss of local shops, decay of high street shopping and development of edge-of-town shopping centres has been allowed to happen in haphazard fashion, lacking a coherent vision that would allow planners working at national, regional or local levels to make interventions based on a clear set of policy guidelines. If "Ghost Town Britain" is to be reversed, there is a need for the country to adopt retail planning guidelines, which would provide greater power to control and cap the size of supermarkets, ensure that the town centre is the primary focus for development, and require local authorities to develop retail plans for their area.

  • Greater support to local authorities to maintain public open spaces: There seems to have been little thinking about longer-term solutions needed to address the lack of local authority finance to preserve and improve parks, village greens, town squares, and open common land. The Government needs to support local authorities to protect and maintain these spaces, and to help them instigate enforcement against illegal encroachment on common land.

  • National inventory of community buildings: The role of community buildings in maintaining community services is recognised within government. There is a need to establish a mechanism to undertake an inventory of community buildings which would enable the Government to look more closely at the funding structures in place, and at ways of providing financial, administrative and other support for local organisations in danger of losing their community buildings.

  • Encourage Community Banking: The idea of the Community Bank plc, advocated by the Campaign for Community Banking, deserves attention by both financial sector and Government.

  • Encourage Community Pharmacies: The Government should further enhance the role of community pharmacists to take on a broader public health role and some of the prescribing powers of doctors. Developing the role of community pharmacists will only happen if they feel secure in their businesses and therefore able to locate in deprived areas. The current arrangements -- which will encourage further supermarket encroachment into pharmacy business -- will only serve to undermine existing community pharmacies.

  • Support for Community Development Finance Initiatives (CDFIs): The DTI's Phoenix Fund has made £20 million available to CDFIs, which provide finance and business support to small enterprises in disadvantaged communities that are unable to access part or all of the finance they require from conventional sources.

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